As a candidate, Donald Trump expressed his contempt for “sanctuary cities.” As president, he’s threatening sanctions against them.
What is the appropriate response?
In Santa Rosa last week, an overflow crowd urged the City Council to defy the president and join a growing list of sanctuary cities in California and across the country. The issue returns to the council on Tuesday.
Santa Rosa, and by extension Sonoma County, are friendly territory for immigrants, documented and undocumented. Local police don’t ask about citizenship status or participate in immigration enforcement, the county jail doesn’t hold people solely for immigration violations, and many employers rely on immigrant labor.
Local support for Trump is harder to find. His 22.2 percent share of the vote in Sonoma County is the worst showing by any major party presidential candidate since 1924. And one of the largest demonstrations in county history took place one day after his inauguration.
So there isn’t much political risk for local elected officials who denounce Trump’s bellicose remarks about immigrants and refugees, oppose his costly plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and resist his pledge to deport millions of people.
But some residents, including people disturbed by Trump’s immigration policies, are asking about the practical impacts of becoming a sanctuary city.
It’s a murky subject. There is no official definition of a sanctuary city, and there are legitimate doubts about a president’s ability to unilaterally cut off funding that has been authorized and appropriated by Congress. But there’s little doubt that Trump is spoiling for a fight, so City Council members need to be clear about the scope of any action they take, and how it differs from present policies, as well as any potential reprisals from Washington.
Immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility — as Arizona learned when it tried to unilaterally crack down on illegal immigrants. U.S. authorities cannot force local police to enforce federal laws, nor can federal agents be barred from enforcing them in any jurisdiction. In that sense, sanctuary cities, like nuclear-free zones, are more semantics than realities.
However, there are valid reasons for local law enforcement agencies to stay out of immigration enforcement, as some California police agencies have done since the 1970s. A Santa Rosa Police Department statement on immigration says: “We need to ensure that all residents feel comfortable calling 911, reporting crimes, coming forward as witnesses and testifying in court to ensure public safety.” Otherwise, they become easy prey for criminals.
A measure pending in the state Senate would prohibit any California law enforcement agency from inquiring about an individual’s citizenship or immigration status, making arrests based on civil immigration warrants or performing the functions of an immigration officer.
To be clear: Illegal immigrants convicted of serious or violent crimes should be deported after completing their sentences. The fingerprints of anyone booked into jail are, by federal law, submitted to immigration authorities, who are responsible for deportations.
But most of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country are law-abiding. They work and, yes, they pay taxes. Some were brought here as small children. It would be virtually impossible to deport 11 million people, just as a wall on the Mexican border provides no security against people who overstay their visas — a group estimated to account for as much as 40 percent of illegal immigrants.